William Hohri questions legality of drafting Japanese Americans from camp

For the past several months, writer William Hohri has been developing the theory that it was illegal under the Selective Service Act of 1940 for the U.S. government to draft young Japanese American inmates while in the custody of the War Relocation Authority.

He published his argument in the January 2005 issue of The Objector, in an article titled, “Free Us Before You Draft Us.” He writes, “Someone was violating the law. And it was not the resisters. It’s about time we recognized this.”

William shares with us a talk for today that he says for one reason or another was undelivered:

Day of Remembrance – UC Santa Barbara – 2005

For the purposes of this talk, I’d like to change “Day of Remembrance” to “Day of Reconsideration.” Of course, we have already reconsidered the name of the camps from “Relocation Center” to “internment camp” or “concentration camp” or “prison camp.” I would like us to reconsider the military conscription of young men from the camps. Was it legal? Was military service via the draft an act of patriotism by the draftee or an act of illegality by our government?

In entry 5 of the IV-F classification section of the Selective Service Act of 1940, one reads this requirement, (I quote) “Is being retained in the custody of criminal jurisdiction or other civil authority.” (End of quote.) [emphasis mine] Were we internees “being retained in the custody of . . . other civil authority”? If we were, we should have been classified IV-F, as unsuited for military service. We were, instead, classified I-A, as suited to take subsequent steps, including the physical examination, to be accepted or rejected for military service. Most of the draft resisters resisted by refusing to take their physical exams.

Well, had we been retained in the custody of civil authority? The first place I looked for my answer was in my dog-eared, nth Xeroxed copy of The Evacuated People: A Quantitative Description, written by the U.S. Department of the Interior and the War Relocation Authority.

Section one begins with, (I quote) “Some 120,313 persons of Japanese descent came under the custody of the War Relocation Authority between May 8, 1942 (the date the Colorado River Relocation Center opened) and March 20, 1946 (the date Tule Lake closed).” (End of quote) So according to our government, the War Relocation Authority, had served as “other civil authority” that had held us in its custody. Hence, the draft age men should have been classified IV-F and not been draft eligible until they were no longer being held in camp and were living in free America.

Of course, the definition for this custody resides in Executive Order 9066 plus one of two Public Proclamations. Why the Public Proclamations? Well, if you read E.O.9066 carefully, you will notice that it only seems to order exclusion. The powers of the President of the United States delegates the power (I quote) “to prescribe military areas in such places and of such extent as he or the appropriate Military Commander may determine, from which any or all persons may be excluded, and with respect to which, the right of any person to enter, remain in, or leave shall be subject to whatever restrictions the Secretary of War or the appropriate Military Commander may impose in his discretion.” (End of quote)

Note that the main verbal expression is “may be excluded.” This is followed by legally undefined subordinate verbs, “to enter, remain in, or leave.” Of course, we remember E.O. 9066 by remembering it on or near the date of its being signed by President Franklin Roosevelt on February 19, 1942. But the subordinate verbs are implemented and legally defined in two Public Proclamations, number 8 and WD-1. WD-1 seems to be the most precise and does implement “to enter,” “remain in,” and “leave.” (Note: proclamation 8 applied to camps within the jurisdiction of the Western Defense Command, while WD-1 applied to camps further inland in the states of Wyoming, Colorado, and Arkansas.) These proclamations were published several months later in August and October of 1942.

[Please note in advance of the following quotation that “War Relocation Project Areas” is the term used for “camp sites.”]

Paragraph b of WD-1 states, “All persons of Japanese ancestry . . . are required to remain within the bounds of said War Relocation Project Areas are required to remain within the bounds of said War Relocation Project Areas at all times unless specifically authorized to leave . . . .”

Thus, when E.O.9066 is combined with these proclamations, the relocation centers become detention camps. And the inmates of the camps are being held in the custody of the U.S. government and their young men should have been classified IV-F.

So, on this Day of Reconsideration, we should reconsider what it meant when 315 draft resisters tried to challenge the propriety of conscripting young men into military service after forcing them, with their families, into detention camps. They were charged with committing an illegality and punished accordingly. This is how most of us felt for the last 60 years. But they were, in fact, not violating the Selective Service Act of 1940. It was our government that was committing the illegality.

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